The Common Cold
by Marc Jones
Diary of Sir Thomas Graham, Conservative MP, December 31, 1924.
…Looking back it’s been a damn strange year. Stanley Baldwin out on his ear after making a dreadful mess of the election, Austen effectively defecting back to the party of his youth, Labour marching backwards almost as fast as they’d surged forwards and all the time Asquith and The Goat keep skating their minority government along the rails. Oh and Hogg is still in charge of the party.
Somehow I get the feeling that Hogg and Clynes are two sides of the same, very petty, coin as the leaders of the two Opposition parties. I really hate to contemplate this, but frankly they’re not up to the job. The less said about Clynes the better and Hogg means well, but the man is a dull windbag. I’m not even sure how he came to be elected, but I think that the general consensus is that he was the least bad option.
I’ve heard a rumour or two that Stanley is being pressed to stand again, but I doubt that he will. It’s too soon since the leadership election for a start, and that’s even presuming that he’d be willing to bother. No, he’s sulking on the backbenches, content to watch Hogg make yet another attempt to bore the House to death with one of his speeches.
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, December 31, 1924.
I suspect that the way that things are going we might see Arthur make his move in the New Year or the Spring. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the leadership – or lack of thereof – of Clynes, and the boil will have to be lanced too. The fact that Arthur has always seen himself as the King Over The Water will not help.
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Lady Venetia Montagu, January 1, 1925.
The first day of a new year, and much to my delight we are still in power! I will confess that I had a few doubts at times last year as to whether I would still be in Number Ten at this point in time. Such is life.
I have a meeting with LG and Winston in a few days to discuss the technical aspects of the White Paper that they are bringing to Parliament when it reconvenes. It should be very long and very technical, but it should give our industry a real shot in the arm over the long term. I cannot say too much – it is very complicated and parts would be an excellent remedy for insomnia – but in a nutshell it would create a series of incentives that would encourage financial innovation and other encouragements for industry. It will also create a series of technical colleges designed to get the best and brightest Young Turks in industry to spread their ideas about.
It will take a little wrangling to get it passed, but I really do think that it will inject some real adrenalin back into the economy. We just have to get it passed and then stay in power while it does its job… which, given the fact that instant results are impossible in any economy unless, like the Bolsheviks, you want to destroy it, will take some time.
Fortunately the opposition is in something of a state, as Margot put it with some glee the other day over the breakfast table. Hogg is no doubt a very worthy gentleman, but the process of alchemy that got him into his present position defies rational explanation. To put it crudely there are stones on the bottom of the Atlantic with more fire and drive. Not to mention charisma. The weight of his position seems to have squeezed the life out of him.
As for Comrade Clynes – or ‘up the revolution at the most judicious time after some soundings and a careful weighing of the situation’ Clynes, as the Goat calls him – we have little to fear from him for the time being. It is possible that there might be some internal rumblings within Labour, but that remains to be seen.
As for other matters…
Letter from Lord Marlborough to Lady Severn and Trent, January 20, 1925.
Curzon’s illness is worse than I had suspected, I am afraid. The doctors have told him that he does not have long to live, so it is a blessing, I suppose, that the King picked Baldwin instead of him to be Prime Minister two years ago after Bonar Law resigned.
Curzon, on the other hand, would not have shot the party in the foot in such a ridiculous way as Baldwin though.
Speaking of Baldwin, he has apparently shown little sign of getting off his hobby horse and ceasing to sulk about his loss of support – for which he had only himself to blame! One recent rumour is that he intends to take a trip over the Atlantic and visit Canada this summer. This is astonishing, as I have always thought that he would be happiest on a cycling trip around English villages, looking for one that contained the optimum combination of inns, cricket teams and spinsters to condescend to. The man talks in clichés and we are frankly, I now feel, well rid of him.
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, February 1, 1925.
LG’s latest bill has made it through parliament, albeit by the skin of its teeth. The Liberals turned out in full force to get it through, all 270 of them. The way that the Goat dressed it up, it’s supposed to help the economy and bring in incentives of some sort, but the details escape me, as it’s a bit too technical for me. Mention was made however, of the creation of technical colleges and help for people who want to better their careers.
Clynes wasn’t sure what to make of that, but was mildly lukewarm about it, which instantly got Arthur’s hackles up, and he damned it with everything he had. A large chunk of the party followed Arthur into the division lobby against it therefore, which is more proof that the writing is on the wall for old Clynes.
As for Hogg he similarly gave it a lukewarm welcome, although he did say that strengthening the economy was important. Neville Chamberlain instantly decided that anything touched by LG was evil and came out against it.
I think I saw Baldwin ambling off to have dinner rather than bothering to vote.
When the dust settled in the division lobby and the tellers came out to announce the vote, the spokesman was on the Government’s side, showing that they had won. The figures were something like 309 ayes against 294 noes. From the way that Asquith, LG and Churchill greeted the vote you’d have thought that something earth shattering had happened.
It’s been bothering me all day now. Why did they think that this bill was so important?
Oh and old Tom Perkins is dead. He may have been a Tory, but he was very kind to me when I first entered Parliament in 1910, and I am sorry to hear of his passing. Given the strength of his majority at the last election, the Tories will easily fill his place.
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Lady Venetia Montagu, February 15, 1925.
Edward came to see me today to talk about Germany. The Dawes Plan for the payment of reparations for the damage caused by the war has only been in place for six months – it was all very technical and much had been done by Baldwin beforehand – but according to Edward the Germans will not be able to keep the payments up for more than a few years without some serious strains on their economy. He was most scathing about the negotiations last year as I recall, but the eventual results have not pleased him. He is looking far better than he was a year or so ago, and his eyesight has finally started to improve again. He calls it the Foreign Office Elixir of Youth, although I think that he has welcomed the challenges of being back in power as much as I have.
That said, he admits that he is no longer at the peak of his form and has told me, in confidence, that he wishes to leave office towards the end of the year. He has been a loyal friend and a true confidant, and I told him that he could leave at a time of his own choosing – and that I might be leaving before the middle of next year myself, God willing.
In the meantime he is going to keep an eye on the reparations issue carefully, and is also mulling sending a diplomatic and trade delegation to Japan, where the government there has being picking up the pieces after a terrible earthquake. Edward said that a new trade agreement might be most beneficial for relations there in the wake of the disaster, and I agree.
On a more depressing note, LG came to see me today and told me that Woodrow Wilson appears to be on his last legs. He seemed sombre about it, and said that despite all the battles that they had had at the Versailles negotiations, that Wilson was a good man with the best of intentions. His death will be a sad thing to consider.
Oh and by way of a postscript, rumour has it that Moseley is considering joining us. I will have to see if Black Rod has a straitjacket somewhere on the premises.
Diary of Sir Thomas Graham, Conservative MP, March 13, 1925.
Trouble really does seem to come in threes these days. Apparently Curzon won’t last the month out, he’s sinking that rapidly. Baldwin has turned down the latest offer to have him proclaimed king over the water in the chance – no, the likelihood – that Hogg shoots himself in the foot, and according to Tom Travers we’re in trouble in Malden, which used to be Perkins’ seat before his heart gave out. I’m not sure how Travers knows this, although his wife does have her ear to the ground. All that foxhunting I suppose. Perkins had a majority of 10,000 at the last election. That’s bound to slip – he may have been an old duffer, but he was a decent and very kind old duffer – but still, if it goes below 5,000 we’re in real trouble.
Headline, The Daily Bugle, March 25th, 1925.
Webb Wins Malden – Liberals Overturn 10,000 Majority – Conservative Candidate Defeated By 6,000 Votes
Diary of Sir Thomas Graham, Conservative MP, March 26, 1925.
Curzon died this morning. It was very quiet apparently, according to his wife, and he just slipped away in his sleep.
I feel quite low at the moment. Curzon was a force of nature, almost. Many people did not like him, but I found him most reassuring at times – albeit not a man to suffer fools gladly.
The news about Malden is even worse, in a way. I do not think that the party chose the right man for the seat, but that’s besides the point. The Liberal candidate, Webb, won by more than 6,000 votes. Our vote fell heavily and, ominously enough, the Labour vote effectively collapsed, with their man coming within a whisker of losing his deposit. There seems to be a sense that the Liberals are on the up again, mostly I suppose because the general impression that the electorate is receiving from us is of, well, dull incompetence. And I can’t say that I blame them. However, it could be worse. The Labour Party appears to be in deep trouble and is struggling weakly.
Extract of a letter from Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Lady Venetia Montagu, April 9th, 1925.
Another long conversation with Edward today. He wanted to discuss the upcoming meeting of European and other foreign ministers at the Swiss resort of Locarno in three months. This could be a highly significant meeting, he pointed out and there is a great deal to be thrashed out before it.
For one thing, Edward mentioned that, based on his recent communications with Stresemann, it is more than possible that Germany will confirm its western borders. That is no small thing – to give up its old claim on Alsace-Lorraine, even after that had been busted so completely in the wake of the Great War, is a great step forwards. Ratifying its border with Denmark is another major step.
Of course where it gets tricky is the eastern borders. The resurrection of Poland has caused more waves than many had thought possible, and according to Edward whoever had drawn the Polish-German border would have been in the wrong with all sides instantly, as there are pockets of Polish-speaking people in Germany, and German-speaking people in Poland – enough to make any map a joke!
The chances therefore of getting Germany to ratify its Eastern borders are slim. However, as Edward pointed out the largest of walls can be broken down by starting with the smallest of holes sometimes. He has suggested that to start off things we can suggest that the German Government ratifies the only part of their eastern border that did not formerly belong to them – that adjoining Czechoslovakia, which was a part of the now-exploded Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a small step, but Edward feels that this can be worked on, along with a few other areas for negotiation.
He has also suggested that Austen accompanies him to Locarno, as he is rather younger and more vigorous than he is for such energetic conversations that will no doubt be seen there. I will broach the matter to Austen later on today.
By the way, my fears were correct and Moseley has approached the Whips and has asked to join our benches. I have asked LG to take him under his wing and give him some post that requires a lot of running around with a maximum amount of indirect control. He gives me the feeling that he’ll start clicking his heels at the drop of a hat.
Extract from a letter from Graham Furgusson, Labour MP for the Constituency of Newcastle West, to his sister Chloe, April 10, 1925.
Well, the worst-kept secret in Westminster is out, and Arthur has finally thrown his hat into the ring against Clynes. I don’t know why it’s taken him so long to do it, but it’s there. The problem is that his constant equivocation and havering and so on has harmed his candidacy before it even started. If he had announced in January that he was forcing a fight for the leadership, he would have walked into it. The months of testing the water have shown him to be unnaturally hesitant, not to mention uncertain, and that’s just the kind of charge that people would normally make against Clynes, not Arthur.
I have a very bad feeling about this leadership contest. Arthur has the required number of supporters to force a fight, but I just feel that we’re showing our weakness at a time when the Liberals are showing their strengths. Compare and contrast!
The first signs are starting to come in about what the LG budget was intended to start. By a strange co-incidence the first technical college will be almost on the border of my own constituency. Do you remember young Harry Grant by the way, the son of our old gardener? He wrote to me yesterday, saying that he’s going to be attending it in September, after he applied to join it right after it opened its doors last week. They snapped him up at once. The man’s a committed trade unionist and a very good riveter, but he wants something more, so he’s going in to learn this new trade of welding, as well as some management skills. He wants to better himself, and I’m delighted for him.
I have the oddest feeling that young Grant is following the path that LG wants, on a general basis that is. I’ve also heard that LG is sending out trade delegations to China and Latin America. Anything that LG does has to be watched most carefully these days… it’s like poking around in the entrails of a pagan offering. You know that it means something, but you never know exactly what…